About Bonnie Koenig

The Global Education Conference  which I participated in last week is a great example of global co-creativity and online interaction.  Now in its fifth year this conference is held completely online through the Blackboard platform.  The conference included round the clock sessions lasting an hour each, facilitated by hundreds of presenters from around the globe.  The Blackboard platform allows written chats among session attendees and oral discussions (if participants’ microphones and connections allow it).  Limited video of the main speaker is also sometimes possible.

The conference team has an open call for presenters several months before the conference, and provides ample opportunity through its multitude of volunteers for presenters who may not be familiar with the Blackboard platform to receive training and practice in advance of the conference.  All presenters were also encouraged if possible to participate in other sessions throughout the week as well as volunteer themselves to help moderate other sessions.  All of this helps limit a sense of hierarchy, encouraging co-creativity and providing an environment of inclusiveness and a feel of everyone being responsible for the conference’s success.

The sessions I attended ranged from 10-20 people (for breakouts) to 30-40 people (for plenary), and as with in-person sessions, the level of interaction varied by the approach of the presenter and the number of people in the session.    I tried to keep my session on Enhancing and Nurturing your Global Competency as interactive as possible, and we had some good discussion among  the ~12 people who attended) from 4 countries  (with about ½ being more active).  The powerpoint from that presentation can be found here.

Overall the conference has an impressive commitment to global inclusiveness and interaction (using  many social media platforms as well as the interaction on the conference platform).    For those who are interested in continued networking after the event, this continues throughout the year on the Global education conference’s website.


Art @Learn&Share Lab

(This is a cross-post from DIYTollkit)

Earlier this year I worked with Ci2iGlobal, a global group of social entrepreneurs and NGO practitioners, to organise a Learn and Share Lab focusing on lessons learned around co-creation. The event itself modelled a co-creative approach, and featured 14 case studies of co-creative initiatives that were discussed both in facilitated and open space. As a global group spanning numerous time zones and languages, and looking to maximize input from attendees, having a focus on accessible and practical tools was an important element for us.

A variety of tools

Our tool choice was primarily guided by the goals of:

(1) Co-creative design and facilitation

(2) Interactive participation

(3) Ongoing discussion after the in-person event

A few months before the lab, a call went out through blog posts, social media, e-mail and other ‘broadcast’ tools to Ci2iGlobal’s networks asking for co-creation case studies in impact and innovation. Co-creation and co-creative impact are hard terms to define, but the 21 case studies submitted showed us that the term has a cross-cutting ability to capture how more inclusive change is happening in all kinds of contexts.

To consider how to organise the case studies for further review and discussion, Ci2iGlobal partner Christina Jordan prepared a matrix, and the core team members then individually ranked each of the submissions.  The case studies with all round high scores were accepted, those with lower scores were regretfully eliminated, and those that had middling scores were discussed by the group to choose the final 14.

Each core team member then partnered with the leads of the 14 co-creative efforts to help organise their thoughts and presentations for maximum in-person discussion, and eventual written document archiving.  As well as using Skype, a Facebook page was created for Lab attendees to begin discussions prior to the in-person event.  This ‘virtual discussion’ space is especially useful to help facilitate both individual and collective discussions and connections when people meet in person. It also can provide a place for continued communication after an event.

The core team prepared an agenda for the two-day session via Google docs, which was refined in-person the day before the meeting when we all arrived at the workshop location.  During the session, the eight members of the core team took turns facilitating sessions, as did other Lab participants who volunteered to do so.  To help facilitate the discussion, the formats and tools we used included:

  •  Opening Circle – having attendees sit in a circle facing each other sets the tone for an interactive session, where everyone can feel free to participate and engage with each other. Adding a talking stick to the circle also helps to send the message that although there is no one leader and lead roles will be shared, when someone does have the lead or has asked to talk, the group is expected to give full attention to that individual.
  • Open Space – this allows attendees to help develop the agenda for a given session (or a whole workshop) rather than being given an already developed agenda by the workshop/conference organisers.
  • World Café– small groups (around four or five people) converse together around tables about a common topic. After the first conversation, someone stays at the table as a ‘host’, while the others move to a new table. The host summarises what has taken place at that table and those who are new share their previous conversations. In this way, the threads of the various conversations are woven together.
  • Artistic Visualisation – a hands-on art activity that incorporates the themes of the event and helps to illustrate them.
  • Mapping – this involves collecting information verbally from attendees on a given topic area of interest, and then recording it on a flipchart or some type of ‘map’ that the group can logically follow. For example, you might gather information on who is using co-creation tools and where or how they are using them.  A map flows better than a standard chart (with horizontal and vertical columns) and allows you to better see linkages.

Ongoing tool identification and use

A list of co-creation tools that could help build on the workshop was also collected during the Lab and shared in an accessible online document.

After the event, attendees were encouraged to keep the discussion going via Ci2iGlobal sponsored sites (such as the Facebook page mentioned above and Ci2iGlobal website), participating in sites sponsored by attendees (such as Edgeryders) and by blogging.

Some attendees, through connections developed during the lab, have continued to work together on co-creative projects.  Making virtual tools available prior to and after the event was an important part of the energy and synergies created both during the event and after.

The lab helped us test the theory – and gain some evidence – that when a group of people come together from many different cultures, countries and languages who have not previously met each other, co-creative tools can help create fairly quick connections and a deep sense of shared purpose.


I’ve written about scale-up (scaling) many times before, as scale-up or under another ‘label’ for the scaling concept – international outreach.   Working with a number of groups involved in various aspects of scaling, as well as writing about these experiences over the past few decades, I have seen our perspectives on scaling change.

As a few examples, from 1997 through 2012 I helped with the creation and nurturing of the worldwide osteopathic community and their holistic approach to health care through the development of the Osteopathic International Alliance. The success of this effort in many ways can be attributed to the then executive director of the American Osteopathic Association  who was a co-creative leader before we were beginning to call leaders by that term, and the multinational steering committee that envisioned a worldwide community.  In 2011 I helped lead some discussions around scale up at the Ashoka 30th Anniversary Conference in Paris.  For the purposes of the sessions I facilitated we used a working definition of ‘expanding or growing your approach in order to increase impact.’  We talked about various considerations to be aware of and the importance of reassessing periodically why you are doing what you are doing and if your plan might need adaptation.  Although most of the focus was still on ‘scale up’ as defined below, impact was clearly a goal most people had in mind, as perceptions around scaling were beginning to change.

In the past few years we are beginning to see a more robust discussion around different aspects to scaling (including a new Ashoka program Globalizers which is looking at Scaling Social Impact). Below I have outlined some of the different perspective to scaling that are emerging:

Scale Up – The historic approach – an entity or program gets bigger – geography can be a factor but not as important as how many goods are produced or services provided, usually by the one central controlling entity.

Scale Out – A variation on the historic approach that focuses mostly on a geographic spread -spreading good ideas, often expanding them/or an organization geographically, does not have to have as much central control.

Scale Deep  –  A new perspective of trying to spread good ideas that have worked well in one location successfully and sustainably to another, with local customization and focus on scaling long-term impact more than any one specific version of the idea.

There has recently also been some talk about ‘transformative scale’ which also focuses on impact but puts an almost a messianic emphasis on moving in this direction, with some talking about it being ‘the defining challenge of the social sector in the coming decade’.  And even a recent toolkit by those known for exploring how to develop more effective global partnerships which still maintains the mindset of  an inevitable ‘bigger is better’ with little talk about assessing impact around growth: “Once a project or pilot has been successfully implemented, the next step is to build upon this success by sustaining and growing it further. Essentially this means extending the reach of your work to a bigger population.”

Changes in perceptions do take their time.  But to achieve impact at scale, our thinking needs to move beyond the historic definition of scaling as a centrally controlled scale up and the mindset that bigger is better.  As a 2012 report by the Social Impact Exchange notes – scaling impact remains elusive: “Even the most effective mission driven organizations face the daunting challenge of scaling social impact.”  To truly scale deep we need to work closely with local partners and in some cases be ready to say that what worked well in one place, may not work at all somewhere else.  With all of the ways in which the concept of scaling is talked about, one of the most important lessons is that context matters.

Although there is not a lot in one place to guide our thinking about scaling (colleagues and I have tried to collect some of what has been written on a Global Scale wiki) much more has been written about the concepts of scale up and scale out than the newer approach of scale deep.  In some ways scaling deep can be viewed as an impact that the social sector is having on the business sector, as opposed to the opposite direction – of scaling originally being a business term that was adopted by the social sector.

If one is looking to expand good ideas or programs, a major challenge is finding the balance between what needs to be standardized (i.e. done the same everywhere), and what can be customized locally.  With the traditional business sector concept of scale up, the emphasis is on standardization with limited customization, only as needed to sell additional products or services (i.e. McDonalds in India sells chicken burgers instead of beef burgers).  With scaling deep, the emphasis is on local customization – what needs to stay standardized, or core, to keep the integrity of the idea or program, can be kept at a minimum so that the local partners can customize to their own context and needs.  Vesting local partners in this co-creative process raises the chances for long-term sustainability.  Finding the right balance will call for leaders that understand the co-creative process, co-creative leaders.

When all is said and done, the labels don’t matter, it’s the concepts that do.  Here are some of the important concepts to deciding when and how scaling might be appropriate and how to go about it to keep the focus on impact (what we might call scaling deep):

  1. Context –  Instead of starting with the approach that something worked well in one place, label it a ‘best practice’, and look for ways to scale it, let’s start first with an analysis of why it worked well in a particular location/context and try to identify what aspects might be replicable (and what might not).
  2. Partnerships/Collaborations (co-creation) –  For something to successfully transfer from one location to another, and be sustainable over time, it needs to work in partnership from the very beginning with those in the area we might hope to transfer it to.  History is littered with good ideas and ‘best practices’ that have not been sustained when this step of working closely with partners – in a co-creative, not just token approach – is skipped or minimized.

3. Co-creative Leadership –  I recently read an article that argued that the job description of the leader has officially changed from “smartest guy in the room” to chief promoter of the idea that “nobody” is as smart as “everybody”. . .It’s the leader’s job to invite as many smart people into the room as possible, to create opportunities for and channel contributions from the broadest mix of people—wherever they sit in the organization (or the world).”    We are slowly coming to the realization that effective, sustainable solutions cannot be designed from the top by one leader, or a small, exclusive group.  The co-creative leader understands that he/she must lead by empowering others to be part of the design and implementation of long-term solutions.

4. Customization – what is core and what can be customized?  The historic approach to scale up focused on trying to transfer most of what worked somewhere else.  We are now seeing that minimizing what needs to be core (or standard) to only those things which keep the integrity of the idea or program, and allowing for maximum local customization will make the reiteration more sustainable.

5. Trial (and error) – Sometimes to know how to adapt and customize you need to experiment and allow the ability to fail in order to learn and adapt.  It may also mean being willing to admit that a good idea that works in one place may not in fact work outside of that context.

6. Time and Sustained Commitment– effective scaling in my experience always takes longer than we think.   I recently visited the Twawenza website  and loved their reminder that “Real change takes time. We are not keen to just do easy activities and check implementation boxes.”  We need to have greater commitments (and funders need to commit the resources) to multiyear projects that allow time for ‘failure’ and adaptation.

In one of the first articles I wrote about scaling in the 1990’s “Is it time for you to go International?”  I ended with the thought that organizations should also “Recognize when not to go international”.   I would still say that this concept holds true:  if you are hoping to scale ideas that have worked in one context, that working with local partners you carefully study the context in which you hope to scale and you may decide that it is not advantageous to proceed (or at least not in the way you originally envisioned).  But  today I would also underscore that if you do determine that it would be advantageous to try a scaling effort you work closely with those local partners to ensure that you scale deep – giving your efforts the best chance of achieving a significant and positive long-term social impact.

A small but diverse group from 12 countries and many fields of practice came together recently to explore the concept of co-creation at the Learn Share Lab.  The event modeled a co-creative approach itself, featuring 14 case studies of co-creative initiatives, discussed both in facilitated and open space sessions which were guided by a number of the workshop’s participants.

In two days of animated large and small group discussions, some themes about co-creation that surfaced included:

Co-creation can be a challenge to define but some core concepts (patterns in organization and methodology) may be identifiable.  Some discussed by the workshop’s participants (in a exploratory, not definitive list) included:

* Emergence is a key value/concept – the cases studied found that the groups needed to relinquish expectations regarding outcomes to some extent.  There is a need for adaptability and allowing space for failure.

*Non-hierarchical – there may be leaders but a characteristic that helps define a co-creative effort is that there is not one leader throughout the whole initiative. There may be many different coordinators who have different areas of responsibility. So rather than “leaderless”, it may be “leaderful”.

*Shared responsibility and authority for activities and outcomes; there are often contributions from many in deciding how things will be done and in implementation. (Shared authority empowers people to take leads, make decisions, and be freer with their ideas than they might be in team with a clear leader.)

* Mindful of when to be inclusive and transparent – there may be times that a group consciously decides not to be inclusive or transparent for a particular part of the process, but it is a conscious decision after discussing the advantages and disadvantages and rationale.

*Process is critical to the outcome; and the process may have its own impact such as increasing self-esteem so participants can be more engaged in helping themselves and the co-creative effort.

* There are a diversity of ideas reflected and the group is encouraged to think creatively.

*The group is conscious of which decision-making frameworks are being used throughout the process, but they may vary according to the moment or context.  No one decision making process is necessarily preferable.

Some core values and practices were also identified:

1)      The importance of active listening – although we talk a lot about listening, in many cultures and professions we are actually trained and practice talking more than listening.  In co-creative approaches, placing a large priority on listening and observing, leads to better outcomes.  Here are a few resources to help further explore how to become a better listener: Listen First, http://www.listenfirst.org/  and Intercultural listening: http://www.qualitative-researcher.com/listening/intercultural-listening/

2)      Shared, reciprocal learning – As with listening, in some professions and positions we are trained and practice teaching more than reciprocal learning.  With reciprocal learning – we can all learn something from an exchange of ideas – our outcomes will be stronger.  Here is one useful resource: ActionAid International’s Shared Learning Guide  http://www.goinginternational.com/pdf_SharedLearningGuide_FINAL20July2007.pdf  “We believe that learning is a process that takes place in relationships between people.”

3)      It’s all about the questions -  Questions are at least as important (if not more so) than the answers. It’s another area where we can all use a little more practice!  The Art of Asking Questions  http://blogs.hbr.org/2011/08/the-art-of-asking-questions/ & http://wecollaborize.com/pdf/art-of-asking-questions.pdf

If you are interested in joining this emerging community of practitioners around co-creation register your interest in being kept apprised here https://docs.google.com/forms/d/1iQGnozmfrjcYnOT9bgtFjowiiRdoqOls83oC0WHPp1I/viewform

(Note:  The resources cited in this blog post did not come from the Learn Share Lab but are ones I am aware of.  More resources from the Lab will be available at a later date).